Replica solitary confinement cell, doc screening, panel discussion tonight at Philander | Arkansas Blog

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Replica solitary confinement cell, doc screening, panel discussion tonight at Philander

Posted By on Thu, Nov 21, 2013 at 10:43 AM

click to enlarge Inside the replica cell at Philander - CHILSON
  • Chilson
  • Inside the replica cell at Philander

Little Rock's Philander Smith College will host an event tonight that includes a screening of a documentary about the cruelty of solitary confinement in prisons, a panel discussion featuring Arkansas Times contributor Mara Leveritt, and the public unveiling of a life-sized replica of a solitary confinement cell. The event will be held at the school's Kendall Science and Health Mission Center beginning tonight at 6 p.m., and is free. 

The replica cell — nine feet high, and a little smaller than an average parking space — was built by Philander Smith's Social Justice League as part of a student project called "Isolation Uncensored." It will be opened to the public tonight at 6 p.m., just before a 6:30 p.m. screening of the documentary "Herman's House," about Herman Wallace, who spent 41 years in solitary confinement at Louisiana's notorious Angola Prison after the killing of a prison guard in 1972. Wallace was released on Oct. 1, 2013, suffering from liver cancer. He died three days later.

Following the screening will be a panel discussion featuring mass incarceration expert Dr. Robbie W. Bush, Ahmad Williams, president of the school's Social Justice League, and Mara Leveritt, investigative journalist and author of the book "Devil's Knot."  
click to enlarge Students assembling the replica cell yesterday at Philander - BRIAN CHILSON
  • Brian Chilson
  • Students assembling the replica cell yesterday at Philander

The public is invited to visit the replica cell and spend time inside as a way of helping visitors understand the reality and cruelty of solitary confinement in prisons. According to the Social Justice League, 1,800 such solitary confinement cells exist today in Arkansas state prisons. Solitary confinement — with inmates held for up to 23 hours a day, allowed out only to shower or for a short time alone in a small walled or fenced yard — is considered inhumane treatment by many inmate rights groups, which say long term segregation from human contact and socialization can lead to mental deterioration or insanity in inmates. Imagine your bathroom. Now imagine being locked in there 23 hours a day for the rest... of... your... life. 

Ahmad Williams, who was on hand to help assemble the replica cell yesterday afternoon with other members of the Social Justice League, said that he believes solitary confinement fits the definition of cruel and unusual punishment and should be discontinued in prisons. Williams said the idea for the replica cell was conceived by Philander's Dr. Joseph L. Jones, director of the school's Social Justice Initiative. Williams said Leveritt, who has reported on death row inmates held in solitary confinement, gave them their first sketches of how the cells were laid out and designed. 

Williams said the Social Justice League hopes to use the "Isolation Uncensored" project to bring attention to the case of Tim Howard, an Arkansas death row inmate who was convicted of a double murder in 1999, but who many say was wrongfully convicted. Leveritt has reported extensively on the case, including this 2011 cover story for Arkansas Times. Howard was recently granted a new trial, with Philander students observing the hearings leading to that decision. Williams said that information about the Howard case and statistics on mass incarceration will be posted inside the cell for visitors to view.   

Other goals of the project and the Social Justice League, Williams said, are to "expose the torture" of solitary confinement, and bring about an end to the death penalty in Arkansas. He said that he hopes publicity surrounding the project can bring about cooperation between groups who want to work toward those goals. "If we can come together on these different issues and all sit down at the table to work toward that," Williams said, "we can make the coalition bigger and hopefully get more done." 

The "Isolation Uncensored" cell will be opened to the public tonight at 6 p.m. on the Philander Smith campus, with the screening and panel discussion to follow in the school's Nugent Conference Center, located inside the Kendall Science and Health Mission Center (see a campus map here). Philander Smith College is located at 900 W. Daisy Bates Drive in Little Rock. Tonight's event is free. 

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